Roles reversed as Ashes battle arrives
November 25, Brisbane
Start time 10:00 (00:00 GMT)
The Big Picture
The latest instalment of the 133-year Australia-England battle begins with one team trying to form unity out of disarray and the other hoping their perfect preparation turns into an Ashes win. In modern times it has been England who have had to agonise over injuries and form issues, but this time it is the hosts who have all the major issues.
Ricky Ponting's men start the series on a three-game Test losing streak, a sequence of results that hasn't occurred since 1988. That was also the year that Australia last lost at the Gabba. If England can re-write that part of history they will have a huge advantage over the rest of the series, which they only need to draw to keep hold of the urn.
England's tour has been incredible so far, with a couple of warm-up wins, including a strong performance against Australia A, and a draw. Almost all of their men are in form and their position has been so powerful that they sent their bowlers to Brisbane a few days early to acclimatise. If they have lost a bag in transit it would rate as their biggest setback.
The last time Australia lost the Ashes at home was in 1986-87, back when Ricky Ponting was 12 and Andrew Strauss was living in Victoria. Given the build-ups of the sides and the changes Australia have undergone, this is England's best chance for success. If they don't take it over the next seven weeks they will have to wait decades to run into their enemies at such a vulnerable stage.
Form guide(most recent first)
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The destination of the Ashes almost relies on Mitchell Johnson's left hand. If he can bounce and frighten, and hurry and worry, England's batsmen then Australia will be more than halfway towards regaining the Ashes. If he is as loose as he was in the 2009 series, the locals will struggle to contain England's complementary batting order. The signs were good last week when he mixed a five-wicket haul with a century for Western Australia, but now he's back in the big time.
Stuart Broad was responsible for turning the Ashes last time and he carries the same power again. A bowler first, he is capable of bowling full for swing or changing his length to force the batsmen back. As a run-maker, he is strong and entertaining, and it is a shame his century against Pakistan at Lord's was sullied. His father Chris was responsible for lifting the urn in 1986-87, and the family name will never be forgotten in England if Broad can do it too.
Michael Clarke's back is the major worry for Australia but he has proved his fitness and Ponting does not consider him a risk. Peter Siddle will play his first Test since January after beating Doug Bollinger for the final bowling spot, and Xavier Doherty will make his debut. Usman Khawaja and Doug Bollinger are heading to Perth after the toss to play for New South Wales.
Australia 1 Simon Katich, 2 Shane Watson, 3 Ricky Ponting (capt), 4 Michael Clarke, 5 Michael Hussey, 6 Marcus North, 7 Brad Haddin (wk), 8 Mitchell Johnson, 9 Xavier Doherty, 10 Peter Siddle, 11 Ben Hilfenhaus.
England have known their best XI for months and there will be no deviating unless someone trips over a sprinkler head, or slips in the nets. No touring team since the great West Indies outfits of the 1980s has been so assured before a series in Australia.
England 1 Andrew Strauss (capt), 2 Alastair Cook, 3 Jonathan Trott, 4 Kevin Pietersen, 5 Paul Collingwood, 6 Ian Bell, 7 Matt Prior (wk), 8 Stuart Broad, 9 Graeme Swann, 10 James Anderson, 11 Steven Finn.
Pitch and conditionsIf the results of the Gabba this season are followed, the match won't last five days. The square remains soft from a spring of heavy rain, but the pitch is firm and a light shade of green. Showers are forecast throughout the game, with the cloud cover and extra moisture exciting the bowlers. Ben Hilfenhaus smiled broadly last night when he noticed it was raining. Add in the humidity and temperatures in the high 20s, and it's going to be a contest controlled by the fast men.
Stats and trivia
- This will be Ricky Ponting's eighth Ashes series but he barely makes it on to the list of most England-Australia matches. Ponting's 31 games sit well behind Syd Gregory (52), Allan Border (47), Steve Waugh (46) and Colin Cowdrey (43).
- The man at the ground with the most Ashes runs will be Graham Gooch, England's assistant coach. Gooch scored 2632 in 42 games, putting him in 11th spot, one ahead of Greg Chappell, Australia's new selector.
- In 321 Australia-England Tests, England have won 99 and lost 132. In Australia they have succeeded 54 times, and been defeated on 85 occasions.
- Anderson is the one visiting bowler who has played a Test in Australia before, but Trott and Prior are the only ones in the top seven who are on their Down Under debuts. Hilfenhaus has featured once at home, while Doherty has played a handful of domestic fixtures in Brisbane
Quotes"A batting collapse probably had a big say in us losing the Ashes last time and we're very aware of the fact. We've spoken about it a lot, but sometimes the more you speak about things the harder they become."
Ricky Ponting on his side's recent tendency to lose wickets in big batches
"It's been a big build-up. It's obviously a very exciting thing, the prospect of representing your country in an Ashes series. We're standing here on the edge of it, so the guys are very keen to get amongst it and get off to a good start."
Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo